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Starched Thighs and Charred Chilis

Sep 7, 2006 | From the kitchen of Rose

really fun article in yesterday's washington post. click on the link:

washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/05/AR2006090500256.html

reprinted here with the kind permission of the author food editor Bonnie Benwick! Be sure to scroll down to Jacques Pepin's contribution--i can just picture his expression when what he reported happening happened!

(just got the paper and saw that my esteemed friend Mitchell Davis is featured in an interview right next to the above mentioned article, re his new book "kitchen sense: more than 600 recipes to make you a great home cook"! bravo mitchel!!!)

TALES FROM THE PROS
Starched Thighs And Charred Chilis
Wednesday, September 6, 2006; Page F01
Kitchen dramas? We've all had them, even the pros. The dramas turn out to be learning experiences -- at least that's what we tell ourselves.
As proof, we asked some of our favorite culinary luminaries to share their own cooking class tales. Let these be a lesson to us all.
-- Bonnie S. Benwick

ROSE LEVY BERANBAUM, baker and cookbook author:
I was teaching at Rich's Cooking School in Atlanta in August several years ago, and the demo kitchen was so hot my legs stuck together. In a moment of desperation/inspiration, I reached for what turned out to be the perfect solution -- and not just for my baking: cornstarch.
DUFF GOLDMAN, owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and star of Food Network's "Ace of Cakes":
When I was a student at the [Culinary Institute of America] at Greystone [Napa Valley, Calif.] I was known as the bread guy because I worked at a bread factory after school. One of my teachers, an amazing bread baker, asked me to make 200 baguettes for a big American Culinary Federation conference. I was really paying attention, baked 'em all . . . they had a nice jump on them. They were beautiful. I was so proud of myself.
The next day my teacher came in and tore one in half to taste it. "Did you try one?" he asked. I'd forgotten the salt. I had to make another 200.

MARCELLA HAZAN, master Italian cook, teacher and author:
The only class I ever wanted to take was at Madame Chu's Cooking School in Manhattan.
Now I'm 82, but I was something like 45 at the time. I decided to go there because I found out I liked Chinese food very much. But after the madam went on a sabbatical, her staff didn't know what to do. Since they knew I made Italian food, they gave me a piece of paper with six names and telephone numbers -- Italian cooking references. Call these people, they said. So I said to my husband, "Americans, they are crazy!" He said to me, "You like to teach? You teach." I never took another cooking class, because I got too busy doing my own.

MOLLY STEVENS, food writer, editor and 2006 Cooking Teacher of the Year (International Association of Culinary Professionals):
I once attended a class where the teacher was toasting chilis in a skillet, left them on the burner and went to do something else. The chilis burned and filled the entire room with a thick, throat-burning smoke. People started coughing and leaving. And then, worst of all, the teacher berated one of the assistants for burning the chilis when we all knew who was really responsible.

PATRICIA WELLS, cooking teacher, author and food critic for the International Herald Tribune: Very early on -- 1995, I think -- [super chef and restaurateur] Joel Robuchon often came to our cooking school in Provence with two assistants to do the final Friday class. Philippe the pastry chef forgot about the tiny madeleines in the oven, and they were turned into tiny, perfectly formed black carbon madeleines. I saved a few as souvenirs. They are still perfectly formed black carbon madeleines, kept in a little glass jar in a cabinet there.

NICK MALGIERI, author and baking program director at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York:
In a CIA class with a very strict instructor during the 1971-72 academic year, one first-year student whispered to another, "Could you come look at my baked beans? I think when I doubled the recipe I quadrupled the amount of liquid." He took a look, and there was an awful lot of liquid. Way too much to cook off. Student No. 2 (me) went to distract the chef with some question about knife-sharpening while Student No. 1 emptied half a box of cornstarch into the beans.
When the pot of beans was put out for the student meal, the chef especially commended the maker of the baked beans for having instinctively added the correct amount of liquid -- because they were so beautifully thickened.

ANGELA SHELF MEDEARIS, Austin cooking class teacher and author, most recently, of "The Ethnic Vegetarian" (Rodale, 2004):
I gave a private lesson in my home to a very cute, very athletic young couple. We were going to put together a menu plan and teach them how to cook for a week's worth.
I try to incorporate using two things everyone has in their kitchen: a microwave and a broiler. To get started, I asked them, "Is your broiler located on the top or the bottom of your oven?"
"Broiler?" They looked at each other. "We didn't know we had one." I knew it was going be a looong class.

GALE GAND, pastry chef, author and restaurateur:
In 1985, I went to take a class with Albert Kumin, at his International Pastry Arts Center outside New York City. It was really high-level stuff -- sugar pulling, European desserts.
I once attended a class where the teacher was toasting chilis in a skillet, left them on the burner and went to do something else. The chilis burned and filled the entire room with a thick, throat-burning smoke. People started coughing and leaving. And then, worst of all, the teacher berated one of the assistants for burning the chilis when we all knew who was really responsible.

PATRICIA WELLS, cooking teacher, author and food critic for the International Herald Tribune:
Very early on -- 1995, I think -- [super chef and restaurateur] Joel Robuchon often came to our cooking school in Provence with two assistants to do the final Friday class. Philippe the pastry chef forgot about the tiny madeleines in the oven, and they were turned into tiny, perfectly formed black carbon madeleines. I saved a few as souvenirs. They are still perfectly formed black carbon madeleines, kept in a little glass jar in a cabinet there.

NICK MALGIERI, author and baking program director at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York:
In a CIA class with a very strict instructor during the 1971-72 academic year, one first-year student whispered to another, "Could you come look at my baked beans? I think when I doubled the recipe I quadrupled the amount of liquid." He took a look, and there was an awful lot of liquid. Way too much to cook off. Student No. 2 (me) went to distract the chef with some question about knife-sharpening while Student No. 1 emptied half a box of cornstarch into the beans.
When the pot of beans was put out for the student meal, the chef especially commended the maker of the baked beans for having instinctively added the correct amount of liquid -- because they were so beautifully thickened.

ANGELA SHELF MEDEARIS, Austin cooking class teacher and author, most recently, of "The Ethnic Vegetarian" (Rodale, 2004):
I gave a private lesson in my home to a very cute, very athletic young couple. We were going to put together a menu plan and teach them how to cook for a week's worth.
I try to incorporate using two things everyone has in their kitchen: a microwave and a broiler. To get started, I asked them, "Is your broiler located on the top or the bottom of your oven?"
"Broiler?" They looked at each other. "We didn't know we had one." I knew it was going be a looong class.

GALE GAND, pastry chef, author and restaurateur:
In 1985, I went to take a class with Albert Kumin, at his International Pastry Arts Center outside New York City. It was really high-level stuff -- sugar pulling, European desserts.
Jacques Pepin was one of the students. One of the others was a young woman who had come to learn how to make the decorations for her wedding cake, which she had planned to do while she was there. Lilies of the valley. You need hundreds! Jacques felt so sorry for her that after Day 2 or 3, he stopped doing the standard repertoire and spent the rest of the week helping her make little flowers. They got it all done.

JACQUES PEPIN, chef, author and cooking teacher, reminded us of this story from his 2003 autobiography, "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen":
At the beginning of my teaching career, I had to overcome a few issues with communication. Most of them involved me underestimating how little my students knew about cooking techniques that I'd learned so long ago I thought they were acquired as instinctually as breathing.
One incident occurred while I was teaching a participation class for 14 people in the test kitchen of the New York Times. As usual, some students wanted to do everything, while other students preferred to sit and observe. In order to get her involved in the class, I asked one shy woman, who had been observing without getting involved in the work, to strain the stock, which had been cooking for three hours. She did strain it -- right down the drain -- and came back with the bones in a colander. "What do I do with these now?" she said.
So much for the clarity of my teaching.

PAM ANDERSON, food writer, cookbook author and former executive editor of Cook's Illustrated:
The very first time I went on the road for a book tour was for "The Perfect Recipe" in 1998. I was supposed to make lemon meringue pie at a Saturday morning cooking school class in the Midwest.
I got there early in the morning, but I hadn't told the volunteers to make things ahead. So the doughs weren't made properly. There was no frozen shortening. There wasn't a finished pie to show the class. The baked crusts pulled away from the edges, and as I recall, we served a kind of hot lemon meringue soup. . . . At least we all had a good laugh, and turned something negative into a positive, teaching-wise. I haven't made a pie on the road in a while.

MOROU OUATTARA, former chef at Signatures in Washington, who's about to open Farrah Olivia restaurant in Old Town Alexandria:
I wouldn't have the patience to take a class from someone else, but a couple of years ago I was doing a demonstration at the Food and Wine show in the old convention center. It was for 25 people, and I was showing them how to cure bison meat.
Taste as you go, I said. Recipes don't stress enough that you should taste after each ingredient. Then I made the brine, with two cups of salt, two cups of sugar, a tablespoon of paprika, a half-teaspoon of cayenne pepper, talking all the while as I added them. And then cumin, coriander, cinnamon and clove. I couldn't use my finger to taste (as chefs usually do) so I grabbed a big spoonful and drank it. Of course, it went down the wrong way. I started to choke and someone had to get water for me.
Well, I told the group, I guess that proves you shouldn't taste! At least everybody laughed.
A lot of people think cooking is magic, and that chefs know just what to do. We make mistakes. It's good to show that, in the end, it's all about having the courage to try and fail, and try again.

Comments

andi i AM next door metaphorically speaking. i just have to tell you to reread the intro to the cake bible in which i write about showing my husband on a first date my masters'thesis on sifting flour and he said he had the same problem and solution to his digestive studies. the word missing from the intro was barium bc the publisher at the time didn't think it was a word that had any place in a cookbook!

REPLY

Rose,
Your cornstarh story so like my own,when I was young,only not as a cook,but a young x-ray student in a large hospital.."Cedars of Lebanon"
I was in in the x-ray room after the Floroscopy x-rays were taken(Barrium enimas)Being a student we had to clean the table,I gaged,and so not to let anyone know I reached for a bar of soap on the counter and smeared it above my lip...to my amazement it worked.....lol..I could clean without the terrible odor.......oh to be young and challenged like that,so cooking stories come easily now.....
Thanks for your posts.I only wish you lived next door.....
You have taught me so much through the years and I Thank-you!!!!!!
Andi Fishman*

REPLY

thanks zach and reeni. i appreciate the feedback as i've never dared tell this story before in print!

REPLY

This is hilarious! As a cooking school teacher I can really relate, especially to the cornstarch-dusted thighs. One of the hardest things to get your mind around is that something you brush off will stick with someone for years! As evidenced by these memories...

REPLY

Zach Townsend
Zach Townsend
09/ 7/2006 01:26 PM

Incredibly entertaining reading, Rose. Thanks for posting this. Makes you feel better about your own mistakes in the kitchen!

REPLY

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